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Analogy: Novell Kills the Golden Goose for Its Golden Eggs

Posted in Deals, Finance, GNU/Linux, GPL, Novell, Servers, SLES/SLED, Xandros at 11:10 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Various deals that involve Novell are occasionally being mentioned in news. We have been accumulating these until ‘Do-No-Evil Saturday’ arrives. That’s when Novell usually gets a praise or two, just for a change, maybe a refreshing contrast. Among those items we were about to include the Capgemini deal with Novell, which is very explicitly a ‘mixed source‘. Here is a fragment from the press release.

Capgemini and Novell Enter Broad Mixed-Source Partnership

Capgemini endorses SUSE Linux Enterprise platform from Novell and provides consulting services and support for Novell open source and proprietary software

A lot has been said before (here and elsewhere) about the dangers of this ‘mixed source’ strategy. It bends Open Source and transforms it to fit a more closed and proprietary vocation, which also excludes the supplier. There is a long discussion about this over at Groklaw. It explains why Novell’s “mixed source” model is truly a menace. It also explains why Capgemini made a mig mistake by choosing Novell.

So this is the dream. Mixed source. How foolish is that? You lose the primary benefit of Linux, namely the flexibility to do pretty much whatever you want with it as a customer. And it’s bound to be a very short and bumpy ride. The Xandros deal, to my mind, makes litigation pretty much inevitable.

This whole Novell-Microsoft saga to me was kind of like a hostile takeover of GPL code, or an attempt at it, to neuter it so as to make that code go more proprietary whether it wants to or not. Folks who like the proprietary ways better and didn’t much like the GPL, or don’t understand its value, thought the license doesn’t mean what it says or that they could get cute with it and make oodles and boodles of money by selling code that belongs to other people in ways those authors told them in their license they don’t like.

Well, the GPL does mean what it says. And if you steal the Golden Egg and in so doing kill the Golden Goose that laid it, what have you accomplished? The development method that makes the code so much better is the Golden Goose, and the GPL is central to the health of that Goose. I suppose that is why Microsoft wants to get it neutered or eaten for dinner, but why would anyone else help them, particularly someone selling or wanting to buy Linux? You cut off your own future, or make it subject to Microsoft’s whims.

In other news, Novell will hold a shareholders meeting within a few of month.

Novell, Inc. today announced that its 2007 annual meeting of stockholders will be held on Aug. 30, 2007.

Their last report was not quite so satisfactory and left much to be desired. Then again, Novell has not descended to ‘SCO level’.

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  1. Ian said,

    June 7, 2007 at 9:43 am


    “It bends Open Source and transforms it to fit a more closed and proprietary vocation, which also excludes the supplier.”

    That’s off base. Take OES Linux(Open Enterprise Server) as an example. At its core it’s SLES 9 which has had no direct complaints lobbied against it as being mixed source or some sort of parasite. All OES does it put proprietary packages on top of SLES 9. It does not change any part of the GPL based software and make it proprietary.

    Mixed source in this context does not mean the merging of open source code and proprietary code. It’s a matter of stacking proprietary apps on top of an open source framework. IBM, often lauded as an open source hero, does the same thing.

    As for why Novell doesn’t do away with their proprietary software which is the next logical question? Chances are, it’s a fiscal burden with small or zero benefit. Honestly, how many hobiests want to work on eDirectory or GroupWise. The Hula project under Novell died a horrible death because hobbyists just didn’t care.

  2. Sebastiaan Veld said,

    June 9, 2007 at 10:40 am


    As Ian states, all they do is run closed source on an open source framework. I feel that a good model, also I do feel that works out really good for most of us (customers). A lot of peolpe just know Linux, so that makes it more easy to deploy it and then get the services you need running on it; either closed or open source. Most of us just don’t -really- care about these being either open or closed, we pay for these services cause we need them to do business. In these cases there is just not a viable open source alternative.

    As for Novell a lot of open source projects they are in (Radius, DNS, DHCP, Linux Kernel, Open Office, virtualisaten, document enchange, Gnome, and many others) in are being extened for working integrated or with Novell’s more proprietary services like eDirectory, NSS, GroupWise. Basicly a lot of code found in these project flows back as being open source and so to the community. That means at the end a larger use base. And (what I feel is just the reason why the ‘base’ must be open) for everyone to use, as also Novell can use what another adds to the source. THAT will accelerate adoption of open souce in general and Linux as an OS.

    For Novell the agreement with Microsoft is just a way to get into these company’s depending mostly on MS stuff today. Now being able to introduct Linux and other services (either open or closed source) that interoperate with existing infrastructure give a smooth path for these company’s to move to Linux and open souce. I feel that will be good for Linux and for the community

    I think there really is no danger in ‘mixed source’, as enhancement to GLP’d code do and must flow back to the community. Closed source services running on top of Linux may just stay closed cause, as Ian also did states, there’s just a too small user base interesed in enhancing it and that might just slow down development (as we have seen with Hula). I think Novell will open open more and more as we go forward, but things just need time.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 9, 2007 at 10:59 am


    > For Novell the agreement with Microsoft is
    > just a way to get into these company’s
    > depending mostly on MS stuff today.

    I haven’t a doubt. Some things here benefit Novell’s business, but these are outweighted by many of the other conditions Novell has committed itself to. That is the purpose of the site, as matter of fact. We strive to show what it is that encouraged Microsoft to shell out $0.3 billion. Compared with $2 billion paid to Sun, Novell got a terrible deal for selling out Free software and its community. Novell shares a bed in a loveaffair whose ultimate aspiration is to kill the Golden Goose.

  4. Sebastiaan Veld said,

    June 10, 2007 at 5:13 am


    >Novell shares a bed in a loveaffair whose ultimate aspiration is to kill the >Golden Goose.

    It may be in general Microsofts goal to get a grip on open source, and maybe MS to get that, asked Novell to sign the patent part of the agreement ‘not to sue eachothers customers over -possible- patent issues’. But Novell always said there just are no known patent issue’s at the moment.

    So, one could argue weather Novell then should have signed that part of the agreement or not. Fact is that a lot of customers today not using open source software are afraid of using it cause of the possibility to get sued. So, still I think it’s a good way to get those customers who are afraid of these -possible- patent issues on Linux and to use more open source software.

    Also I’m not blind to see what Microsoft tries to do, or at least tries to get us to believe, that there are patent issues. Maybe Novell/Xandros/LG/.. do pay MS for certain patents they own (or the other way around), that would be fare in how patents work today. If we don’t like that in general then we need to change the patent system, or the code to work around these issues. As far as I know Novell never said that the paid MS for patents they own in open source code. Novell may pay MS for patents in closed souce code or the fact that MS provides coupons for SLES, which I do not have a problem with.

    I fully agree with you that benefit’s Novell in the first place. But on the other hand all that Novell sells benefit’s the community cause the open source code Novell makes flows back to all of us. This part of the business model is the same for all company’s making money out of open source software. These company’s charge for support and additional closed or open source services they may provide. Also that’s the model for open source code; one enhances the part of the code that one needs (to get better code and eat your own dogfood) and for anyone free to use. If one does not need the paid support or services then get a free disto from the net. But if one wants to pay for support and the additional services then get your distro and services from a company that get’s you what you need to do your business.

    The agreement may save customers from a sue over patent issues, but MS and Novell can still sue each other. Then also Novell’s behind a lot of patents they say will be used to defend open source and Linux. So, only time will tell what happens when either the convernant between Novell and MS end in a few years, or MS really start to sue open souce company’s tomorrow. What then Novell does? Then they need to work arround the issues that may rise, by defending the patents targeted or helping with working around the issues. If they don’t they will kill their own business model. I think that will not happen cause if say if Red Hat get’s sued over a patent in open source code and looses, then Novell would loose.

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 10, 2007 at 7:39 am


    > I fully agree with you that benefit’s Novell in the
    > first place. But on the other hand all that Novell
    > sells benefit’s the community cause the open
    > source code Novell makes flows back to all of us.

    Free software developers (and I consider myself one of them) thrive in trust, openness, reciprocity, and sharing. I am afraid that Novell leaves many others exposed to some threat — however illusionary it may be (even an illusion that is pure FUD can be damaging). Patents are not the only issue at hand. have a look, for example, at our past discussions on interoperability (e.g. Samba and document formats). The deal was carefully written to leave Free software in the dark ages, unless it is willing to pay Microsoft royalties, which is absurd. It gives proprietary software the upper hand in a world that should rely on free and open standards.

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